Tom McMahon is a Groups Logistics Manager for Target Canada, but his expertise goes well beyond what he does during the day. When he's not at Target, Tom is a recognized martial arts expert and a World Brazilian Jiu-jitsu champion.

Name: Tom McMahon

Suitless Pursuit: Martial arts expert and World Brazilian Jiu-jitsu champion

What got you into Brazilian Jiu-jitsu?

I've been obsessed with some aspects of Asian culture (ninjas and all things martial arts-related) since I was five years old, and I went through a number of different martial arts. I got my first black belt in Pai Lum Kung Fu when I was in middle school. At that time, I thought I knew how to protect and take care of myself, but one day I got jumped by some guy who wanted to test himself against a martial artist. He jumped me while I was on my bicycle and threw me to the ground. I couldn’t defend myself and I got kicked and stomped on. Once I got on my feet I held my own, but I was so banged up. I was so upset that I left my gym at the time and looked for another, so that I could learn ways to protect myself on the ground. At the same time, I noticed ultimate fighting and I knew that I found what I was looking for.

So that’s when you got into it?

Not right away. I had a friend who taught me some basics, but there weren’t many schools in my hometown where I could learn. Only when I moved to California and got a stable job did I finally get a chance to train at the Pedro Carvalho Brazilian Jiu Jitsu School. I still remember going in for the first time and getting demolished by the instructor. Ever since then, I've been hooked.

How do you balance your day job with what you do now?

It’s not easy - you just have to prioritize what you want to do. I've sacrificed a lot to do what I love. When people were out partying, I would stay behind and train. I’m fortunate to have a great girlfriend a great family that supports what I do. I put in five or six days a week and usually a day or two of cross-training. It’s very difficult, but I try and map my schedule around tournaments.

How often do you go to competitions?

I usually do five or six tournaments a year. It was easier to attend tournaments when I lived in California since it’s a major hub of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. My best year was 2012 when I decided to enter as many competitions as I possibly could. I ended up winning more medals than all of my previous years combined.

At which competitions did you win medals?

At the Pan-Am Games I won purple belt, blue belt, and third at brown belt. The biggest tournament that I won was at Worlds where I won purple belt. Just recently, I won Masters Worlds (the Master & Senior World Jiu-Jitsu Championship) two years in a row, which put me as the number one ranked brown belt for the Masters Division. That's for anyone over the age of 30. I was fortunate enough to have some good luck in different places.

As someone of your skill level, do you have any knowledge to pass onto students of your own?

What I really love about martial arts is the sharing. I’m really passionate about teaching. I guess that’s why I love my job: I get to coach and mentor people. Along the way, I’ve met some inspiring people who have an amazing competitive drive. There’s this one girl who I’ve come across who's really special. Girls in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu are not that common and it takes a special kind of person to get down to the mat and go against guys who have egos. It’s amazing how resilient and passionate she is. She’s a lawyer and she’s really dedicated to this craft. She won at Pan-Am and now she has her sights set on the World championships.

What is your secret formula for success?

There’s really no secret. Get a game plan and work your ass off. It sounds simple, but you really need to have that drive. You need to have the audacity to say “I have a full time job, but I’m going to win at Worlds.” A lot of people have a goal, but usually they aren’t willing to make sacrifices. What differentiates people is the drive to go for that extra lap on the track, even if your friends make fun of you for it.

What are your future goals as you continue to pursue your passion?

I have Worlds at the end of month. That’s the big goal. I’ve been a brown belt for a long time, so this is my last run at Worlds. In the near future, I expect to get my black belt, and even though I’m at Master Division, I’d like to match up against the younger guys. If I get beat up in the process, then whatever; as long as I’m learning and having fun. In the long-term, I’d like Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to be my retirement plan. I said before that I love teaching and I’m hoping to retire at 40 years old and build a school and team around that. Hopefully, I’ll be able to drop the suit and go suitless full time. I’ll be happy as long as I’m helping people achieve their goals, stay fit, learn self-defence, and just have fun.

Do you have any advice for those who want to start learning Brazilian Jiu-jitsu?

The hardest thing about getting started in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is ego. It’s your biggest enemy and we all have it. I have it and I have to wrestle with it every day. You think you won something, but all that means is that you won that day. It doesn’t mean my Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is the best in the world. It just means that particular day was the culmination of everything I worked towards. Sometimes people have an ego and they get beat up by someone 100 pounds lighter than them. I’ve seen people quit because of that. If you stick with anything long enough you will get better. Sometimes you have to be willing to be the nail for a long time until you become the hammer.

Basically, just go in and try it out?

Yeah. But it’s all about the vibe at the training gym as well. Check the credentials: is it clean? Is it safe? Do you like the people around you? For me, I don’t like to be yelled at; I get enough stress at work as it is. I like a gym where I can relax, have fun, and push myself. Everyone has their own environment they are comfortable with, so just try it and find out.

Learn more about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Official website of the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Foundation -

Recommended schools in Toronto

Nova Uniao -

Budokan -

Body of Four -

Tom’s home gym in Minnesota

Alliance Minnesota

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